Saturday, 15 June 2013

Cerisy-la-Salle - the ideal conference venue

I spent the other week in Normandy at a conference on medieval seals. This may seem an odd way to spend my precious annual leave, particularly as I am not an historian. But my husband, who had already attended two colloquiums at Cerisy-la-Salle, assured me that this ideal conference venue was an experience not to be missed.

Cerisy-la-Salle is an early 17th-century château situated in the Manche region of lower Normandy, about halfway between Saint-Lô and Coutances. The château, fortified and surrounded by a moat, was built by Jean Richier, an important protestant lord. At first sight it seems a rather grim and austere place, but this impression is lightened by the pleasingly asymmetric exterior layout and completely undermined by the cosy, higgledy-piggledy interior.

Knitting in the sun

Château from the side looking distinctly fortress-like.
Our room was situated behind the top left windows

The château has been in the possession of the family of the current proprietors since the early 1800s. It is now the site of le Centre Culturel International de Cerisy-la-Salle. Cerisy-la-Salle has been hosting cultural and academic events since 1910 (with a break during and following WWII). Distinguished visitors include such luminaries as Heidegger, Malraux, Oppenheimer, Sartre, Valéry and Derrida. The organisers have been assiduous in photographing each group that uses the facilities, and the hallways are covered with pictures that read like a who's who of the great and the good in French cultural life of the 20th century.

Gide napping during a presentation - 1926

Arnold Toynbee on a day trip to Mont St Michel - 1958

Claude Ollier, Jean-Louis Baudry, Jean-Pierre Fayne, Philippe Soolers,
Michel Foucault, Edoardo Sanguinetti, Michel Duguy in the library - 1963

Library set up for lectures

Other than the historical charms, the château offers comfortable rooms, delicious and plentiful Norman food and drink (both cider and wine at meals), and excellent company. The dining room is in the old kitchen with an enormous hearth and an impressive collection of copper pots (probably manufactured in the nearby town of Villedieu-les-Poëles). Meals are taken communal style, so we had the opportunity to chat with different people each evening.

We were told that the two cooks prepare meals for conferences from
June to October, and clean pots the rest of the time. I don't doubt it.

Fortunately there was another colloquium on at the same time involving geographers and political scientists, so there was less temptation for the medievalists to talk shop. It was a good opportunity for me to practice my rusty French. And on the last night of the conference they organised a friendly pétanque competition between the two groups, so my husband was able to learn a new sport (I am useless at sport, so did not participate).

Playing pétanque until the wee hours of the morning

I'll leave you with one final image of the château taken from the wildflower meadow that has been left to grow for insects and other wildlife.

More information (in French) about the history of Cerisy-la-Salle and other regional treasures can be found online from the Parcours du Patrimoine.